PITTSBURGH – Five days ago Mathieu Perreault was on the wrong end of a collision at RBC Center -- and almost immediately his thoughts drifted toward the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic. He was gripped with fear.
Perreault, who ended up with a broken nose and a concussion, missed the Washington Capitals' game on Tuesday. But the rookie center – distorted face and all – was able to skate with his team Friday at Heinz Field and will be in the lineup Saturday night against the Pittsburgh Penguins (8 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC.
"Yeah, right away – pretty much my first thought was, 'Oh God, I'm not be able to play in the Winter Classic,'" Perreault said. "It turned out it was more my nose than my head, so it was fine. The concussion sometimes you never know but my head feels fine."
The diminutive center had a full, clear shield attached to his helmet for Friday's workout, but said he will likely just go with a longer visor for the game Saturday night because he didn't feel comfortable with his vision – especially when trying to look down at the ice.
Washington's other rookie center, Marcus Johansson, has also missed time recently with a lower-body injury, but he was also on the ice at Heinz Field and should be OK for Saturday.
"I've been in a lot of pain the last week, but today in the skate I felt a lot better," Johansson said. "It feels like I can really skate good again and it was a great again. It was just amazing to be out there in this stadium and with the sun and everything. It makes you feel like you're a kid again."
The Capitals held a pretty informal practice the day before the Winter Classic. Warm weather, and particularly an unexpectedly sunny day, may have diminished the ice conditions by the time Washington had its chance to take the ice in the afternoon, but some of the players kept the mood light.
Alex Ovechkin tossed a football around with his friends after the skate. Mike Green helped one of his hometown friends with a marriage proposal.
The team had to put a couple of orange cones on the ice to cover danger spots, but even that was fodder for jokes at a teammates' expense.
"They put two cones on the ice because of holes in the ice and obviously everyone was calling each other the cones," defenseman John Carlson said. "Like, ‘Oh, that's a good d-pairing, Tom [Poti] and Jeff [Shultz], those two cones. It was a lot of fun and I really like to keep everything loose out there and everyone was doing that."
Washington held an outdoor practice two days earlier at Chevy Chase Club, so just being outdoors wasn't really an adjustment for the Capitals. Being in a football stadium with more than 65,000 seats and a gigantic scoreboard at one end was something of a new experience though.
Players did have a chance to try and get used to different sightlines and what it is like to play a game where the seats aren't up against the glass. Basketball players often cite an adjustment period when moving from a small arena to a big stadium because the background behind the baskets is different. It turns out hockey players have a similar experience.
"Some arenas are different because the seats fall back on the lower level and some are more straight up so it looks different. Here they are just really far back," center David Steckel said. "When you are looking back literally you are looking at all these yellow seats and there was [Semyon Varlamov] in the middle of them stopping pucks. It is going to take some getting used. I'm sure there might be a couple dumps where you go, ‘Wow I thought that was going to hit the glass,' but it ends up along the ice.
"Everything else feels the same. I'm sure with sightlines – if the puck gets flipped up in the air it might take a little longer to get. Other than that it was pretty similar."
The Capitals have now had two outdoor practices, and both times they had to deal with the sun. Now that the Winter Classic has been moved to 8 p.m., the players will need to adjust to playing under the lights.
"I think, to be honest, it is going to help," Steckel said. "We practiced outdoors a couple of days ago and the glare from the sun was tremendous, but I think under the lights it is going to be much better. I watched "The Big Chill" (the recent Michigan-Michigan State outdoor game) on TV and it didn't seem like they had any trouble."